SA prepares for cancer 'explosion'

2012-07-06 20:00
The public health care system must gear itself for an "explosion" of non-communicable diseases like cancer, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says. (File, Sapa)

The public health care system must gear itself for an "explosion" of non-communicable diseases like cancer, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says. (File, Sapa)

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Cape Town - The public health care system must gear itself for an "explosion" of non-communicable diseases like cancer, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Friday.

"The whole world is going to experience an explosion of non-communicable diseases, among them cancer. Planning for cancer is very much planning for the future," he told reporters at research facility iThemba Labs in Cape Town.

He said the health department needed to invest in new technology to diagnose and treat these diseases.

The National Research Foundation (NRF), which ran the laboratory, had approached the minister to request funding for a more modern and dedicated particle accelerator, also known as a cyclotron, which could be used to treat cancerous tumours.

The machine could blast and greatly reduce tumours using proton therapy, especially small or awkwardly placed ones. This therapy accelerated a charged particle to enormous speeds and directed it down a pipe to a targeted area on the human body.

The greatest advantage of proton therapy over other cancer treatments was its ability to direct very high energy towards the tumour without greatly damaging surrounding healthy tissue.

The centre was the only place offering proton therapy on the continent.

Its cyclotron was in great demand by researchers and health specialists at the centre only had access to it four months of the year, limiting the days open for treatment and the number of patients.

Motsoaledi was given a tour of the facility and seemed excited at its potential.

"Obviously they need doctors, they need training, but they also need some form of funding... we need that interdepartmental co-operation," he said.

"Our agreement is that I must go back and do my homework to see how we are going to collaborate, so we have not yet arranged [anything]."

He said cancer patients were a priority. The department recently launched a cancer registry to track affected patients.

Motsoaledi said the registry would ensure patients did not "fall off the radar", and track the incidence, distribution, and control of the disease.

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